How to Motivate Yourself to Work Out When You’re Training for Something Big

 In Badassery, Skills, Training
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It you’ve ever trained for a really big mountain — or an epic ride, or just a summer of all-purpose badassery — you know that its tough to keep the fitness momentum going. It’s freaking grueling to motivate yourself to work out week after week for months, especially when a lot of the work is mind-numbingly repetitive.

(And if you’re there right now, I totally feel you. I’m climbing Mount Ranier in July, and some days I’d rather eat a broken glass salad with diesel dressing than do another Stairmaster workout with a backpack.)

But if you’ve got a big feat of badassery in your sights, take heart. Here are five (semi) painless ways to motivate yourself to work out through months of punishing training.

1. Freshen Up Your Playlist

Music is super helpful when you need to ramp up the intensity — or for those tired days when you just need an extra kick in the ass. Here are some apps that will transform your phone into a bottomless pit of awesome tunes.

  • Spotify Premium ($9.99/month) and Napster Premier ($9.99/month) allow you to download just about any song you can think of to your phone for offline play. (Even long-time holdout Metallica is giving in to the digital craze, at least for their latest album.) Both services also allow you to create radio channels based on your fav artists and songs, which is a great way to discover new tracks.
  • Shazam (FREE). Keeping your playlist full and fresh can be tough when you’re working out 15-plus hours a week. Use Shazam to discover new songs at the gym, at the grocery store, in the car, on TV, or wherever. Just open the app while a song is playing and hit the button to discover its title and artist. Once a week, I go into my history and add everything I Shazam-ed to my playlist.

Bonus tip: If music helps motivate you to work out, stay on top of your downloads. Schedule 30 minutes at the start of each week to update it. Rotate your songs frequently to avoid burning out on your favorites.

How to Motivate Yourself to Work Out When You're Training for Something Big

2. Learn Something

When you’re trying to motivate yourself to work out, the spoken word can be a great accompaniment for longer, less intense workouts like backpack hikes. Use that time to learn something or just get your reading done with the following apps:

  • Podcasts (FREE) for iOS and Android. Seriously, I don’t know how I hiked alone before these existed. They’re lightweight, so you can download multiple seasons of them to your phone without taking up too much space. Also, because the hosts are talking to you, they kind of feel like company. New to the genre? Check out Outside’s list of outdoorsy podcasts.
  • Audible (Starts at $14.95/month). Catch up on your reading while you work out with Amazon’s ebook service. The lowest-tier price includes 1 book per month with discounts on additional books.
  • YouTube Red ($9.99/month Android, $12.99/month iOS). Allows you to download your favorite videos so you can listen to them offline. Useful if you like some creators who prefer this format over Podcasts.

How to Motivate Yourself to Work Out When You're Training for Something Big

3. Get Statistical

They say you can’t change what you can’t measure, and athletic performance is no exception. Having some performance stats is a great way to motivate yourself to work out, track your progress, and compete with yourself.

There are a bunch of great fitness tracking apps out there, but personally I love the simplicity of Strava (FREE, featured in the video below). Track your splits and elevation gain and earn trophies for improving your performance on the same segment or course. Strava has running and cycling settings; the running mode also works fine for hiking, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing.

4. Mix It Up

Being disciplined doesn’t have to mean doing the same thing every week for months on end. Here are some ways to motivate yourself to work out by changing your routine:

  • Play with speed. If you’re on a longer run, ride, or hike, add some intervals to keep things fun and fresh. These don’t have to be super structured or timed. You can alternate your fast and slow legs between lamp posts, by city blocks, by counting your strides, or by putting in extra effort on hills.
  • Try something new. Can’t bear one more day on the stair mill or elliptical? Replace one cardio workout a week with Tabata or Battle Ropes. (You can even buy your own ropes for days when you’re traveling — or just too lazy for the gym. And if you dig Tabata, ACTIVEx has a free iOS app for you.)
  • Change locations. My running coach used to have us do our speed workouts at the cemetery at night. Why? Because sometimes novelty distracts you just enough to dull the pain. So once in a while, try taking your gym workout outdoors. (Worried about maintaining intensity outside the gym? A heart rate monitor is your friend. Here’s one that works with Strava. And here are some biometric bluetooth headphones that actually measure your heart rate.)
  • Cross Training. Training for a big peak doesn’t mean you have to give up other pleasures like mountain biking. Taking a weekly spin in the dirt can keep your mind and body fresh and give your knees a break. (Just make sure you’re still working in plenty of sport-specific training.)

How to Motivate Yourself to Work Out When You're Training for Something Big

5. Get Some Wingmen

One of the best ways to motivate yourself to work out is to find some badass company. Instead of scrambling for new training buddies every week, set a standing “friends” workout that always happens at the same day and time. This can be a training hike, a long run or ride, or even a track workout.

Then designate a fixed meeting place and let friends know they’re invited, no RSVP needed. Send out personal invites to your most reliable buddies for the first few weeks until they get the idea. But after that, it’ll likely run on autopilot. To boost engagement, post reminders on your Facebook and social media.

How to Motivate Yourself to Work Out When You're Training for Something Big

Finally, don’t forget to be kind to yourself

It would be awesome to go an entire year crushing it on a daily basis. But that kind of intensity really isn’t sustainable.

When you’re training for a big, long-term goal, you’re inevitably going to take breaks due to illness, family commitments, plumbing disasters, and the occasional snow-mageddon. This is totally OK.

The idea isn’t to do everything perfect. It’s to stay in it for the long haul, doing your best, improvising as needed, and (ideally) having some fun.

How do you motivate yourself to work out for a long-term goal? If you’ve got tips, I’m dying to hear them. So please comment below to share!

How to Motivate Yourself to Work Out When You're Training for Something Big

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Showing 2 comments
  • Aaron

    I climbed Cotopaxi in Ecuador this past December. I trained an average of five days a week for months. I did at least one eight to sixteen mile hike per weekend (I live in Pennsylvania where there is no chance of gaining serious elevation), but the rest of my workouts were in the gym.

    I joined a boxing gym in October. Not a boxing gym where you learn to punch other people (and get punched by them). They have hour-long classes where an instructor takes you through different punch combinations on a heavy bag. It’s a fantastic cardio workout that is easy on your legs. I alternated between going to the boxing gym and going to the regular gym (where I usually did intervals between weight training and sprints and walking on a treadmill). All of this, combined with at least one endurance hike a week, worked really well for me, and I never had any problems with injury or wearing out any one part of my body.

    I do find that instructor-led classes in general are a good way to avoid monotony in a training regimen. Having someone tell you what to do is also a great way to find out about exercises and stretches (along with being shown how to do them correctly).

    Anyway, my Cotopaxi trip was a success, and I am now training for an attempt at Mont Blanc this July.

    All the best!

    • El Jefe

      That’s so awesome, Aaron! Thanks for sharing and for the great suggestions. You’re living proof that athletes don’t need to live in a giant mountain range to train for mountaineering. (Though it sure helps.)

      I’m about to try out an instructor led class for my core strength. (It’s the one area where I always skimp.)

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